7 Things To Consider When Expanding Your Dairy Herd

    Expanding Your Dairy HerdWith milk quota ending on 31st March, most dairy farmers have much to consider going forward. You might be planning on doubling or tripling the size of your dairy herd. You might have expanded already with more expansion planned. You might be considering moving from suckler to dairy. Whatever your circumstances, there are a number of factors to consider when you decide to milk more cows.

    1. Cost of Heifer Rearing

    Are you going to rear your own heifers to go into your milking herd or are you going to purchase maiden or freshly calved heifers?

    If you are planning to rear your own and work towards a closed herd, the cost of rearing them and ensuring that they will be repaying their rearing cost as early as possible is an important consideration.  Only 20% of farms in a UK study from 2013 had heifers paying off their costs by the end of the first lactation. The average break-even point came half way through the second lactation, approximately 530 days after the first calving. We all know which situation we would prefer to be in.

    Preparation starts the day the heifer calf is born, ensuring the calf receives approximately 3 litres of colostrums within two hours of birth, that she receives sufficient milk and calf meal to hit target growth rates of 750 grams per day. This study calculated that if heifers are calving at 25 months, costs go up by 7% and calving at 27 months meant costs were 18% higher.

    The aim is for heifer replacements to be at optimum weight for their first breeding season and that they calve down at 24 months.

    2. Herd Fertility

    The days of calving cows throughout the year is being phased out in dairy herds with farmers aiming for a compact calving season, starting to calve as days lengthen and grass starts to grow. The top dairy herds are calving 50% of their dairy herd in 18 days meaning that dairy females born in that period will be evenly matched with a good start in terms of working towards calving down at 24 months.

    Most farmers will be starting their breeding season within the next two weeks. A missed heat can cost up to €250 in grass-based dairy systems between loss of milk, and trying to get that cow to ‘catch up’ in future years.

    Herd fertility can be improved with better heat detection. Methods can include using a vasectomised bull, pre-breeding scanning of all cows not showing heat within a month of calving and serving all heifers within the first three weeks of the breeding season.

    5 Things to Consider When Choosing a Cow Heat Detection System

    Research shows that most heats start during the night so the signs are often most visible between 8pm and 6am – when you are relaxing and asleep. The MooMonitor mobile app will allow you to view the data on your mobile phone and you will be able to tell at glance which ones are on heat.

    3. Grass Management & Soil Fertility

    Are you growing enough grass? Are you measuring grass regularly to ensure your grass is managed well? A soil analysis will show you if your milking platforms requires lime, Phosphorus or Potash. For optimum soil fertility, the pH should be 6.3 and the P and K index should be 3. If you can achieve that, your farm will grow more grass, provide more milk and drive more profit.

    Do you know how much grass your milking platform can grow? This will dictate the number of cows you can carry unless you are planning to supplement heavily. Examining your soil analysis and drawing up a Nutrient Management plan with your agricultural advisor is key to your planning. Good grass management can vastly improve the protein and butterfat content of the milk thereby increasing your milk price.

    4. Is your parlour ready?

    You need to consider how expanding your herd will affect the amount of time you spend in the parlour in the mornings and evenings. A slow milking parlour can make milking cows seem like hard work whereas a parlour that is quick and comfortable will make it an enjoyable task.  The Dairymaster milking system will maximise the amount of milk yielded from each cow and has been proved to yield up to 5% than other commercially available clusters due to its unique combination of claw, liner and pulsation system.

    Dairymaster Milking Parlour


    It is also worth noting that the Dairymast milking system is capable of milking each cow up to one minute faster. If you are milking one hundred cows ……. that can really add up.

    5. Housing Facilities and Space

    Feed space is hugely important. If there are not sufficient cubicles for your size of herd or enough feed space per cow, then the first calvers or shyer cows will suffer. It’s not just a case of them not getting sufficient forage, it can affect their health to the extent that they get pneumonia and displaced stomachs.

    6. Roadways

    Good roadways will help to prevent lameness in cows but will also make it more convenient for accessing paddocks particularly in wet weather. Being able to access paddocks at different points will reduce risk of poaching and maximise grass utilisation.

     7. Water

    A lactating dairy cow drinks an average of 100 litres a day, depending on the weather.  It is important to ensure that water troughs have an adequate supply of water particularly in hot weather. A 150 gallon trough might have been large enough for your herd when you had sixty cows but with an increase in scale, then larger troughs and a faster supply of water will probably be required. According to research by Teagasc, while a cow’s thirst may be quenched by the slow trickle of water into the trough, she might drink more if it was available. If water is flowing too slowly into the trough, it could lower the amount of milk yielded by up to 20%.

    If you are planning on milking more cows and wish to improve heat detection in your herd this breeding season, do contact our Dairymaster team to ask about MooMonitor.


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